Saturday, August 25, 2007

"I try to avoid eye contact to avoid being blinded by the earnestness.": Mad Men

Sorry this took so long. I'm at a wedding this weekend, and getting the hotel to like my computer and give it an Internet connection took way longer than it should have. -- ed.

This was probably my least favorite episode of Mad Men so far, largely because it treaded a little too far over the line of plausible deniability. I'm willing to buy that all of the guys at Sterling-Cooper are jackasses deep down who hide that under a facade of goodness that runs skin deep. The episode was surely entertaining, and it was good overall, but it didn't hit the heights that previous episodes did, simply because it lost its nerve in too many places.

The way that Mad Men creates tension is to butt the positions and thoughts of its characters up against our modern positions and thoughts. This is disconcerting to a lot of people, simply because it means that there isn't a lot of "plot" to take to heart. The show can also come off as cold and clinical if you can't get into its mindset. What's interesting is that the show's central conflict isn't really between two characters or even two groups of characters. The central conflict is between the characters and us. A lot of shows are trying a fancy new structure where you play out events in the future AND the past (Lost probably kicked off this trend, but Prison Break and Heroes have both messed with it, and Damages is basing a whole series around it). Mad Men is doing this without flashbacks or flash-fowards. We simply know that things are about to change for these people and that their casual self-love and ad copy writing skills will not be good enough. And the degree of change is what we fear (if, indeed, we care for the characters, which we may not). The world isn't just going to change briefly. It's going to change SEISMICALLY, and the characters we see on screen will probably spend a lot of time in our world calling in to talk radio shows and complaining about how the world's gone to Hell.

But all of this only works if the show doesn't call attention to these facts. And this episode tried a little too hard to remind us that these guys could be real bastards (I mean, "like a dog that plays the piano" is a funny line, but it felt a bit too much like the show trying to rub in that these guys held sexist attitudes). I know that there were female copy writers at the time (even the show reminded us of this in episode two). I even know that there were female executives at the time (indeed, Rachel Menken is a regular). But I can suspend my disbelief far enough to believe that all of these middle-aged white guys were so self-satisfied and smug that they would just ignore the slowly turning tide and presume things would always be the same. When the show rubs in too much that these guys have retrograde opinions, it takes me out of the moment. Having known bigots, I know that they don't spend every waking moment expressing their bigotry. They usually do so subtly. No one wants to be a jerkass in public.

The episode also contained some overbearing symbolism in the form of the caged canary that Roger got for Joan (revealed, finally, to be his mistress and a woman who relishes the way her sexuality gives her a measure of independence, though we sense she must be aware those years for her are drawing to a close -- but damn did Christina Hendricks look like a million bucks in this episode). Yes. We get it. Joan, as with most of the women directing in the Sterling-Cooper orbit, is trapped. While I loved the way that this episode humanized and filled-out Joan (loved that line about the food by the bed being like a hospital, which said so much about the pain she suffered in the past without coming right out with it), I could have done without that heavy-handedness, which wasn't like Mad Men at all (and rather more like the "Inside Mad Men" segments AMC airs after the episodes). Still, it was almost worth it all for that gorgeous final shot, held for a long moment, of Roger and Joan standing several yards apart, waiting for respective rides. It encapsulated the plight of Joan, who is the love of Roger's life but only for the moment, in a way the heavy-handed symbol couldn't hope to do. (There were some other nice moments in the story, as when Roger admitted that he was about to leave his wife until he met Joan. Guys talk about always being in the friend zone with girls, but is there a "mistress zone" the other woman always finds herself in? If so, Joan would seem to perpetually be there.)

We got a few interesting hints about Don's past in a weird little dream sequence that opened the episode. And we got to see him thrust into a situation he obviously didn't belong in (Jon Hamm continues to play this role perfectly, and the scene in the beatnik club -- overplayed beatniks aside -- was another winning moment for him). What's interesting to me, though, is how he needs very different things from his wife, his mistress and his would-be lover. He seems to turn to his wife for a very safe vision of what he thinks he wants. He's much more passionate with his mistress. And he's positively smitten around Rachel, almost as though he senses that in this woman is everything he might want but he doesn't know how to approach that (well, to be fair, we've gotten hints that Betty and Midge have more to them than he gives them credit for, but Don's just that kind of guy -- he's not going to suddenly realize that Betty has unplumbed depths in her sexuality).

By far the plotline I found the most interesting was Peggy's accidental advancement to copy writer. It's always felt that the show was building to this by making Peggy such an integral part of the show, but it was fascinating to finally see it happen, and Peggy's lines were cute enough to be believable as ad copy. I have a feeling that Peggy is as integral to the show's long-term storyline as Don Draper is (in fact, I see her, Don and Pete as the show's three story "engines" -- the characters that drive the story). I can't wait to see what happens next.

As always, what happened here was better than most other shows, but it didn't match the heights Mad Men set for itself in the five previous episodes. Here's hoping episode seven jumps up to that level again.


“I dream I’m this adventurer, this daredevil, a madman. The Doctor, I’m called…”: Doctor Who

As Freema Agyeman rightly points out during the episode’s online commentary, ‘Human Nature’ is such a radical departure from a typical Doctor Who story that it almost feels like an entirely different show. Indeed, one can see why Russell T. Davies put such straightforward tales as ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ and ‘42’ before it – aside from balancing the season as a whole, this approach makes the impact of Human Nature’s non-linear, unconventional narrative all the more powerful.

We begin with a brief TARDIS-set opening that jumps right in at a crisis point, only to be interrupted halfway through with the reveal that it’s actually a dream of the Doctor’s. Only it’s not the Doctor – all of a sudden David Tennant is playing an entirely different character, a schoolteacher in 1913 England called John Smith. John wonders at his dreams, putting them on paper in his Journal of Impossible Things (a beautiful prop – see photo), but other than these brief flashes he is completely human. Martha, now his maid, is trying very hard to keep it that way, dismissing both his dreams and Nurse Joan Redfern’s suspicions that there is more to him than meets the eye. Most of this is made clear within the first five minutes, yet is not explained until roughly halfway through the episode in a powerfully edited sequence revealing the chain of events that came before. It emerges that the Doctor and Martha are hiding from pursuers known as the Family. Although it feels a little rushed, this explanation is strong enough to support the more important goings on in the story.

Like Paul Cornell’s last Who script, season one’s excellent ‘Father’s Day’, ‘Human Nature’ is a lot simpler than it first seems. Plot intricacies aside, Cornell is basically posing and then answering a very simple question: What if the Doctor became human? Both stories explore seemingly impossible situations; in ‘Father’s Day’ it was Rose getting to know the father who died when she was a baby, while in ‘Human Nature’ it’s the Doctor falling in love with a normal, human woman. Said woman is Joan Redfern (played superbly by Jessica Hynes, formerly Jessica Stevenson), a widower who appreciates that John is unlike any other man she has ever met, and is attracted to this otherworldly quality. The two gradually fall for each other over the course of the episode, and it is to the credit of Tennant and Hynes’ performances, as well as Cornell’s script, that the development of their relationship really does feel gradual. By all rights Cornell could have gotten away with a sense of rush – after all, he only has forty-five minutes to establish this and many other plotlines – but by the concluding part ‘The Family of Blood’ the two really are believable as a permanent couple.

Meanwhile, Martha is forced to look on helplessly as the Doctor falls in love with another human, much like the relegation of Rose to a similar position in ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’. Poor Martha becomes progressively more desperate as the seemingly perfect plan disintegrates around her. Finally she decides that returning the Doctor to his Time Lord form is the only option left, only to find that the fob watch containing this part of him has disappeared. At this point Martha’s desperation becomes somewhat amusing, as for lack of any other plan she resorts to slapping Smith hard in the face. Of course we know that the watch has been stolen by Tim Latimer (Love Actually’s Thomas Sangster), a young boy who opens it and begins to see visions of the Doctor’s past adventures. Sangster is very good, communicating an impressive amount of confusion and wonder primarily through his face. Also throughout the episode, the Family take over the bodies of four humans and activate their army of scarecrows (a clever idea that unfortunately isn’t nearly as scary as it could have been). As the overtaken Jeremy Baines, Harry Lloyd’s superbly creepy line delivery makes him easily the standout of the villains.

As it always the case with Doctor Who two-parters, there’s a lot of important stuff which I can’t comment on yet. Yet although next week’s instalment is ultimately the better of the two, ‘Human Nature’ has one thing it does not: room to breath. It is leisurely paced, allowing the story adequate time to build up and giving each principal character & actor several moments to shine. Tennant especially is beyond fantastic, truly believable as an entirely different character while still retaining little hints of the man we know lurking beneath the surface. Episodes like this and next week’s are what make Doctor Who so much more than just another sc-fi show, so if you’re not watching there has never been a better time to rectify that situation.


Friday, August 24, 2007

"He's this giant cloud of pink gas": Rescue Me

Another flawed episode of Rescue Me, but ultimately quite successful I thought. This season is slowly righting itself from its very muddled middle--I'd probably place it on a par, quality-wise, with season three if things stay good. Oh, and if you've noticed that I've just been using the publicity shots of cast members for my last like, five reviews, well, it's cause FX are useless. Useless.

Anyway, first let's tackle the weakest thread in this episode. Take a guess what it was. Surprise surprise, it's the endless saga of Janet and her no-name baby! Which is apparently officially called Wyatt or Elvis, depending on who you talk to. Me, I prefer Elvis, but I've always wanted to meet someone called Wyatt. Janet has the baby again after sneaking it out of Sheila's arms, but Tommy and Sheila seem to have concocted an evil plan to get it back, the specifics of which the audience is currently unaware, and...oh, who am I kidding. Nobody cares about this. I don't even think the writers care about it. They shoulda just written Andrea Roth out of the show after season two. It really would have made things a hell of a lot easier. Tommy's wheedling with his increasingly irritating daughter Colleen just takes up minutes, too. Every time, they insult each other for a couple minutes before Tommy gives her lots of money in exchange for information. We get it. He's a weird father. Sigh.

Happily, most everything else was pretty good! The firehouse stuff had one really good scene: the single-take conversation between Tommy and Lou in a burned-out building, which contained the kind of epic crudity we expect from those two put together. The best part probably being Tommy casually shoving Lou out of the way of a gigantic falling pillar. There's been a lot of super-long takes this season: have the writers just stepped it up a notch in terms of challenging the cast, or is there more improv stuff going on? I can't really tell. But not only was there the Tommy/Lou bit, but there was ANOTHER long speech by Tommy, following on from his mournful soliloquy on the rooftop last episode. Whereas last week's monologue was truly impressive stuff from Leary, this week's was more of the typical firefighter rant that he often writes for himself, the sort of no-nonsense "you can cram your political correctness up your ass, cause the FDNY are goddamn heroes" stuff, but with an ounce of charm. Plus, he was shirtless, just to hit the manliness home, I guess. While the speech was somewhat self-serving, at least Leary and Tolan were aware enough to have the other firefighters comment on Tommy's growing nuttiness the instant he left the room.

The funniest stuff in the episode was probably the Gavin family AA meeting--an idea I'm surprised they didn't cook up sooner, cause it's nice to include the peripheral Gavins like Priest Gavin and Lawyer Gavin, plus they get to fit Sean in as an honorary Gavin as well, and his ruminations on faith and addiction are never short of illuminating. Also hilarious. Point is, a bunch of Gavins bickering in a room is always gold. It's too bad Dean Winters can't join in anymore, cause he was probably the best bickerer they had, but Tatum O'Neal and Charles Durning do a pretty good job even without him. Durning had an even better scene, however, where he reminded Tommy of Tommy's childhood fears of heights and bees, and how his mother tried to cure him of them. Not sure where there going by bringing up the spectre of Tommy's always unseen mother, who died in the first season, but it led to a really great (and for me, really harrowing) final scene in which Tommy has to rescue a window-washer on a scaffold fifteen stories high in the middle of Manhattan. Now, I have a tremendous fear of heights, and they somehow worked in some really dizzying shots that looked pretty darn real, so I kinda had my hand in my mouth that final scene.

What seems to be going on, and the heights thing is just part of the mix, is many of Tommy's fears are being dredged up, all somewhat connected to fear of death, something he's never really displayed before. I guess the Chief's suicide kicked it off, but the strange faceless ghosts he's been seeing, the heavy religious imagery and situational humor of the last couple episodes, and the brushes with death he's had (both on scaffolds), as well as his fairly depressing home life....well, all honesty, I'm not sure if there is really a totally unifying theme. It's really the same old mix of Rescue Me angst: booze, broads and Jesus. It's always good Catholic fun to watch Tommy wrestle with it, and I hope we get more of that and less of the Janet/baby stuff. Not optimistic, just hoping.

So, we're in the final stretch now. The obligatory Jon Scurti-penned episode is next week, I think, then the final two, in which (I'm guessing) a horrible series of events will befall several characters on the show. Well, I'm just going by experience!


“In my whole life I’ve always been a happy, positive person who’s honest. Um, obviously I don’t fit in here.”: Big Brother

Welcome to hell, party of me.

In the aftermath of Dustin’s eviction and Daniele’s subsequent HoH win, the Frightful Foursome (Daniele, Dick, Eric and Jessica) are drunk with power and toolishness. Immediately after delivering the delightful diary room proclamation “The blood is on our hands and let me tell you, it feels good,” Eric approaches an obviously distraught Jameka and tries to apologize for voting Dustin out. Thankfully, Jameka isn’t really having it and I’m sure she’s regretting the decision to fight to keep Eric in the house just last week. Jameka and Amber conference and
Amber (surprisingly) makes the deduction that Eric and Jessica must have made a final four deal with Dick and Daniele. Maybe I underestimated her intelligence.

Apparently not! The next segment is all “Amber is dumb” all the time, as we learn she has a bit of a vocabulary deficiency. And when I say a bit, I mean she probably doesn’t know any words over two syllables. Examples of words she has asked the meaning of since being in the house: charismatic, ridicule, integrity, and outed. I don’t think I need to say anything else except: wow. I think it might be a miracle that she hasn’t, like, walked over a cliff or into oncoming traffic yet in her life.

America votes to get Amber nominated, and for once I wonder if maybe we’re not so bad after all. Then I remember Dick is the most popular houseguest and I go back to being jaded. Eric doesn’t even have to sweat to make this happen, as it’s pretty much a guarantee Daniele is going to nominate Jameka and Amber, which she does. Her true target, however? My girl Jen. Please, God, guide one of the nominees hand to Jen’s ball in the POV bag. I don’t think I can handle this house without her.

After the nomination ceremony Eric approaches Jameka and again a
pologizes, stupidly telling her he thought he was going to be nominated. Eric, go die in a fire. Seriously. I have no problem with playing the game, but don’t be smarmy and disingenuous. That might be difficult for him, because I don’t think he knows how to be anything else. Amber is not as worried about being on the block, because according to her she had a vision from God that she would win POV. Uh oh, Amber and I are rivaling for God’s affections regarding the veto competition! I’m pretty sure I have an immediate leg up, considering I didn’t sign up to be a contestant on a soul-sucking reality show. I just used to help produce them. Totally different.

Before the veto competition, Daniele complains to Zach that she hates how Jen is constantly complaining, which is pretty rich coming from Miss “It’s so FRUSTRATING!” herself. I would love to have some extra cash to buy everyone in the house some self-awareness. Unless it’s sold at the 99 cent store next to the contaminated toothpaste, I don’t think I have enough money in my bank account to buy the massive amounts they would need.

I lose my contentious POV God Battle with Amber when Jen’s name isn’t selected to play in the competition. God, why have you forsaken me? Is it because of that thing I did that one time in college, because he said it was totally natural and everyone was doing it? In this completely original POV competition, the houseguests have to predict what percentage of Big Brother viewers thought a certain way on a survey question. It’s just like Family Feud! And nothing like CBS’s current hit game show, Power of 10! Daniele wins POV, which means God abandoned both me and Amber in our time of need. Amber diary rooms/cries about how she is losing her faith a little bit. Amber, did you ever consider the possibility that God exists, he just hates you? Or he can’t be arsed to meddle with a reality show? Or he just hates you?

Jameka gives Amber the very good idea of going to Daniele and offering her safety next week if Daniele vetoes her. Why Jameka chooses to tell Amber this and not do it herself, I do not know. Jameka wisely advises her not to give too much away and to only promise things she can deliver on. Amber completely agrees and also says she will not swear on her daughter’s life, no matt
er what. Cut immediately to Amber talking to Daniele in the HoH room, offering Daniele safety for the rest of the game, offering to vote however Daniele wants her to, and swearing all of this on her daughter’s life. The editors brilliantly add a “ding” sound effect every time Amber does something she told Jameka she wouldn’t. After their meeting, Daniele can barely contain the grin of “smarter person who takes advantage of stupid person’s disability.” Not that I fault her for it, because damn. Amber is an idiot.

As planned, Daniele puts Jen up at the veto ceremony, and Jen gives the best eye roll in the history of eye rolls when Daniele speechifies that she wants Jen out of the house because Jen has repeatedly said she doesn’t care about the money and Daniele doesn’t want to “steal this opportunity” from someone else by allowing Jen to be in the house and shamefully want to participate without wanting the money. Okay, these people need to make up their minds. Dustin was greedy because he took the prizes, but Jen doesn’t deserve to be there because she doesn’t care about the prize at the end? My head hurts.

Jen, who is actually hurt to be nominated by Daniele when she thought they were forming a bond, gets upset and starts crying. Aw. When she says, “I don’t want to cry. It’s awkward,” I just want to hug her and make that into a banner plane to fly over the house so Amber can see it. Jen goes to work out, and Dick corners her in the equipment room, explaining to her that everyone hates her and she’s a liar. He is trying to tell her the reasons everyone hates her, and when Jen objects to those reasons he tells her to shut up because he has no better defense. Lather, rinse, repeat. Kill me now.

Jen, obviously tired of being continuously abused and knowing she’s going home this week, finally starts to retaliate against Dick and his tirades by taking all of his cigarettes and destroying them. Now, there was some tricky editing in this sequence but I am going to write it like it happened on the live feeds, not how CBS portrayed it. After Dick discovered she destroyed his cigarettes, he hid her clothes in the HoH room and yelled at her a lot, as he does. Somewhere in here Jen gets called into the diary room and told she cannot destroy his cigarettes, even though apparently earlier in the game they told her she could. The producers then give Dick replacement cigarettes but do not force Dick to give her clothes back. Jen, distraught about what she perceives to be favoritism by the producers, basically gives up at this point and starts eating food even though she is on slop. The absolute outrage the other houseguests feel about this is so, so ridiculous, by the way. They act like she just slapped their grandmas or something. Because she ate while she was on slop, she gets a penalty vote this week.

Jen is outside crying and eating a turkey burger, cottage cheese and an apple when Dick walks out and blows his cigarette smoke right in her face. On purpose, mind you. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back for Jen, and she leaps up and starts yelling at Dick and trying to grab the cigarette from him. During this little slap fight, he blatantly tries to burn her with a cigarette ON PURPOSE, and Jen, who has really lost it by this point, just keeps crying and screaming “you’re burning me on purpose” as he yells insults at her. It’s truly horrible and scary, and thankfully Jameka (but not the producers, no) recognizes the situation is out of control and calmly leads Jen away to tend to her burned hands.

Honestly, at this point I really wanted to turn the show off and give up for the season. Only because of you, dear readers, do I soldier on.

Julie brings us out of this insanity with the cheerful news that because Daniele and Amber were the top two in the veto competition, they win a trip to New York City to compete on (CBS’s new hit game show) Power of 10. We watch them take a trip in a private plane and get professionally made up (while Amber pontificates on how much America must love her, which HA!), but we don’t get to see what happens until Tuesday. I just can’t wait! Except the fact that I can.

Back in the house, it’s time for the live vote. Jen gives an amazingly awesome passive aggressive speech about how she is nice and this is the reason she doesn’t fit in there (hee) and she is just as happy to be leaving as she was coming in. Jameka talks about what an honor it is to be surrounded by all of those people. Jen: 1. Jameka: 0. I mean, really Jameka? Jen is unanimously voted out and gets insincere hugs from everyone except Eric (and Dick, of course) who just sits on the couch and sulks. What has she ever done to Eric? Honestly? As she has one foot out the door, Eric gallantly says, “Jen, as happy as you are to be leaving, we’re happier to see you go.” And at this point, my head explodes in anger. What a dickless little dweeb. Jen brilliantly responds, “That’s…perfect” and walks out the door. I love her.

In her exit interview, Jen is classy, reasonably well spoken and looks beautiful. You’re too good for them, Jen. Go sit in sequester, read books, drink margaritas, laugh about how pathetic they all are with Dustin, and pray Dick makes it to final two so you don’t have to see his sorry ass again. The most galling part of the interview, though, is when Julie Chen asks her if she thought Dick’s abusive treatment was “strategy” or if that’s how he really is. This question is insulting because it doesn’t matter why Dick is a raging asshat, it just matters that he treats people horribly. Jen basically says the same thing, that no matter why Dick attacked her, it wasn’t appropriate and on top of this 95% of the things he said about her were just plain incorrect.

The HoH competition is yet another “know your fallen houseguests” trivia quiz. The fun part is when you are eliminated, Jen gets to push a button and plunge you into a dunk tank. She rightfully shows much glee while performing this task. Jessica wins HoH, and I cry because I was rooting for Amber, and what has this world come to when I root for Amber? Eric goes out very early, and I hope his fellow houseguests are taking note that he throws every single one of these competitions. He's just doing it because he is scared to be HoH and have to make nominations based on what America wants, and I am ready for his ass to get called out, big time.

I won’t be posting any more live feed clips, because I cannot force myself to watch these people more than absolutely necessary. I will leave you with this interesting article questioning the difference between the live feeds and the edited show, and a question: Kail thinks the Big Brother house is like Animal House, Nick thinks it’s like Love Actually (way to ruin a favorite movie of mine, NICK) and Joe thinks it’s like Meet the Fockers. If you had to compare this season of Big Brother to one film, what would it be?


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

“The minute she takes her hand off that car I’m going to rip it off her arm and bitch slap her with it.”: Kyle XY

Just like a seasoned and cynical television viewing veteran, after the excitement of the last episode I was gearing myself up for a letdown of monstrous proportions this week. Thankfully, my negative attitude was unfounded, as Monday's "Hands on a Hybrid" was yet another fine episode in what's turning out to be a very good, if uneven, second season.

When we left Kyle last week, he had just opened Baylin's box (Dirty!) and discovered the photo of a young Baylin with a woman who looks exactly like Jessi. Kyle helpfully translates the Hungarian writing on the back of the photo for us Neanderthals at home, which says "the light will show you the way." I honestly don't understand why Baylin has to encode everything. For once, I wish he would just leave a note, in English, that says "JESSI IS YOUR SISTER, IDIOT" or something to that effect. Mysteries are tiring. Foss, being held at Madacorp after he was captured during the ring heist last week, calls Kyle and pretends he is fine and tells Kyle not to worry. Of course, he was forced to say this by Ballentine, but Kyle stupidly believes him.

Now that Kyle knows Jessi might be like him, he is determined to get to know her better, but first he must attend a very convenient charity function (for cancer, of course!) where the main event is a Hands on a Hard Body competition with a Prius as the big prize. How Seattle, to have an environmentally conscious prize. Of course, both Kyle and Jessi conveniently get chosen to participate. What better way to get to know someone than by being forced to touch a fine Japanese automobile with them for hours on end? Josh, who wants to win the car for Andy, isn't picked but bribes one of the other contestants to sell their spot to him. People quickly begin to drop out, but Kyle, Josh and Jessi hang strong.
Kyle, sensing his moment, sidles up next to Jessi and coaxes her into talking about her life. Jessi admits she doesn't feel "right" and tells him about her memories at the Zzyzx complex. He touches her arm to comfort her, and ends up somehow seeing her memories himself. Of course Lori sees this and immediately calls Amanda to come to cheer Kyle on and keep his mind off Jessi by enticing him with her virgin wares. I don't know if it works on Kyle, but when she shows up she entices me with her extremely cute dress, which I covet. Satisfied she has Kyle completely back in the virgin camp, Amanda goes off to hang with Lori.

Back at Madacorp, the captured Foss is being forced to be the test subject in their first trial of the big MRI-type sciencey machine Stephen was working on last week. Brian Taylor is at the test as well, so you know it's something nefarious and unpleasant. Apparently, this machine identifies where your memories are stored and can extract and read them. I'm sure George Bush would love to have that technology in Guantanamo. Stephen, who is there monitoring the machine but cannot see the test subject (and therefore cannot identify Foss), notices that the readings are off the charts and urges Ballentine to stop the test. He keeps going, as the evil usually do. Poor Krycek. Emily Hollander also feels some sympathy towards him, and I hope this means they are hinting at some sort of Emily/Foss relationship, because that would be awesome.

Elsewhere at the fundraiser, Hillary has decided she wants to be a reality TV star so she covers the event like a journalist in order to get noticed by a reality show. Um...Hillary? As a former reality television production company employee, I think you are going about this the wrong way. Here's how you get on a reality show:

Step One: Put on a slutty shirt.
Step Two: In the submission video or in your interview, giggle, act dumb, be overly gregarious, and tell juicy secrets about yourself (whether made up or true). Act like you want to fuck the camera and/or the casting producer.

That's all there is to it. So, back to Hillary. Lori suggests Hillary's first story: uncover why Jessi is such a freak. She does some decent digging and discovers a tape of the AlternaDance where Jessi has Lori's necklace. What's awesome is that the party is still fully going on when this video was taken, which means Lori was totally attacked and left for dead while everyone was still there. I thought it was way later when the place was deserted. Jessi is bold! Lori confronts Emily Hollander and her father (who have returned from torturing poor Foss) about what Jessi did, and when Stephen sides with Emily over Lori it's too much for her to take and she leaves.

Meanwhile, Andy has discovered Josh's little cheating scam to get into the contest and calls him out on it. In the midst of their argument, she blurts out her cancer secret in front of everyone, and storms off crying. The echoes of "Take your hand off the car, Josh, and go after her!" spread across the San Fernando Valley as I scream at my television set. Josh listens to me and quits the contest to talk to her, and I am appeased. Yelling at fictional characters does work!

Still holding on to that Prius for dear life, Jessi decides to let Kyle run his memory reading on her a little more. As Kyle reads her memories the lights start to flicker and the room starts to shake, as Jessi is wont to do. They must have a lot of electrical problems and earthquakes in Seattle, because I cannot imagine no one noticing how these things only happen when Jessi is around. Eventually, the power of her memories literally blows her and Kyle apart, and they are sent to the infirmary to get checked out. While in the infirmary, Kyle makes his final move: the belly button reveal. Once Jessi sees that, she knows everything about her life is a lie. Unfortunately for Kyle, Amanda walks right in at this point and sees them. He tells her to believe in him, but Amanda is not buying what Kyle's selling considering what a philandering jerk her last boyfriend was. I would feel sorry for Kyle, but I cannot begin to care. They are as boring as white bread with the crusts cut off.

As Josh sits and sweetly sulks, Andy approaches him and apologizes for her outburst by showing him her (amazing) new "Cancer Girl" t-shirt. She even got an "I'm with Cancer Girl" shirt for him. Josh kisses her on the cheek because he is in love, but Andy isn't having any of that and goes in for the real thing. I have to say, even though these kids are like 11 it's kind of hot, for an 11 year old kiss. This is understandable, because if you are a teenager with cancer you can't settle for a cheek kiss. If I was Andy, I'd be campaigning for some under the shirt action right away.

When Emily arrives home, she is stunned by the greeting of "Hi, Mommy!" from her daughter Paige. I have to say, that sent a chill down my spine. Jessi does some shady maneuvers with a chopping knife behind Paige's back, and why Emily doesn't officially just pack her shit and leave town at this point is beyond me, because that is creepy. This is all we see of their confrontation, however, and we find out at the end of the episode that Jessi has run away. What? Huh? I guess we'll find out next week!

Random thoughts:

- Sour Patch Kids sightings: 1. I bet you didn't know they were Kyle’s favorite! Buy some for your kids today, lest they think you’re a horrible parent!


Across the Universe: M.I.A. and Battles

To call an artist or group iconoclastic or revolutionary or any other exaggerated buzz word seems disingenuous from the start. Mostly because these words are thrown around so flippantly that they have all but lost their meaning when it comes to describing truly exciting music. The two best albums that I've heard this year are neither iconoclastic nor revolutionary. However, they are about as close as music can come to those things without forgetting themselves in the process.

Battles debut album Mirrored and M.I.A.'s second LP Kala both seem to share in the same aesthetic bliss of breaking down walls of cliche' and presumption and put in their places, instead, mountains of spastic, manic sound. The end result is so marvellous and invigorating one would be hard-pressed to find better examples of precision and chaos rolled into one over the passed decade.

With Mia, she's finally been accepted as a "rapper." Which is interesting because I remember so many mainstream publications really didn't know what to make of her when Arular rolled around. Anyhow, with this acceptance comes a distinctly odd blend of confidence and eagerness within her music. It's almost as if her acceptance wasn't enough. Now she is attempting to solidify her status at the top of the world. All through out Kala you get this jarring confidence offset by manic, wandering turns into slight snobbery, that actually end up adding to the experience a lot more than one would think. She wields these clusterfuck songs of drum n' bass hybrids and baile funk ghosts into an exhausting exercise in smash mouth style production. It's safe to say that whether you like Kala or not--and the album will surely be middling to many--you've never heard anything quite like this from Mia. With Kala, M.I.A. has been simultaneously able to build upon her already established persona, and somehow completely reinvent herself. Arular and PFT are probably better albums, but she has managed to go even farther off the map here and it is a fine, fine mess. Kala is not perfect by any means, and that's why it's so damned compelling. It's like you ended up at the wrong house for the party, but the shit going on here is way better than your boring ass friends. So, fuck it. Stay a while.

Battles is a different animal all together, but remain similar to Mia in their complete desire plow through preconceptions. And I don't mean about them or their genre--just preconceptions about music in general. Certainly rock music, if you want to get specific. Mirrored is just an absolute workshop when it comes to percussion and the way guitar and strings can meld with electronics to build a completely solid creature that is at once a perfect, methodical killing machine as well as a raging beast killing indiscriminately. This is like watching fusion find its footing. I know that is a way over-the-top exaggeration, but I am dead serious. People don't make music like this. Certainly not rock musicians. I remember thinking how much OK Computer and Kid A had pushed the envelope for rock music once upon a time. Those albums clearly did, but Mirrored does so in a much more organic way. It seems like the natural progression, and it makes it all very exciting. Battles Mirrored is unquestionably my album of the year so far.

While M.I.A. and Battles seem to exist in two different worlds of the music universe, they both understand what it is to push themselves to new realms that go beyond even their expectations and aspirations. Both Kala and Mirrored are the products of artists pushing themselves to the absolute limit...and then pushing themselves even harder. It's all so tiring and even down-right psychotic at times. Somehow, though, it all seems to work in the most revolutionary and iconoclastic ways possible.


If you've never heard of either of these groups...Wake up! Samples of their music can be found here and here.


"My head so big, you can't sit behind me." Track Review: Kanye West, Ft. Lil' Wayne, "Barry Bonds"

This is a pairing that is as logical as it is suspect. However, you can speculate on the timing of the dubious duet all you like, it doesn't change the uber coolness going on here. West is just on fire for his verses on the curiously titled, "Barry Bonds." Kanye is always better when that breezy confidence takes over and manifests itself in his voice. He can always be cocky, but it's when he ceases to try so hard that he actually comes across as a genuine talent. And, of course, he's always had that odd flow where he can't really seem to keep up with his thoughts (no matter how forced or clever they may be) or the beat, for that matter, but on "Barry Bonds" he is calculated and full of himself in the absolute best way possible. Wayne shines in a slightly smaller way due to mic time and a general incoherence, but still delivers the right nudges when the track seems seems that it's about to drag. The song, in this respect, makes for an intriguing listen seeing as anyone can tell you that "Weezy" (as it were) can pretty much mop the respective floor with West lyrically any day of the week...or so I'm told. No matter. Ultimately, these are two very different artists, and their coming together, while lucrative and mildly suspicious, is bound to bring about fantastic results.

You can listen to "Barry Bonds" here...for now.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

“If you’re going to make up an imaginary girlfriend, at least dump her. Don’t let her dump you.”: My Boys

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: last night’s episode of My Boys (“Second Chances”) sort of sucked. There were a few stray laughs from ever-reliable ensemble players Jim Gaffigan and Jamie Kaler, but these laughs couldn’t make up for the weak storylines and the waste of a decent guest star.

Perhaps my expectations for the episode were heightened by the presence of guest star Jeremy Sisto, whom I usually enjoy. He has this smarmy, intense, charming, scary, psychotic energy radiating behind most of his characters that really keeps you on edge as a viewer. Unfortunately, though, episode writer/creator Betsy Thomas didn’t play to these strengths, having Sisto play straight. What did we learn from this endeavor? Straight Man Sisto is not funny. Crazy Creepy Sisto, that’s the funny! (See: Six Feet Under, where you will become simultaneously afraid of/enamored with his character and it will give you confusing feelings inside.)

Straight Man Sisto plays P.J.’s ex-boyfriend, who she shared the perfect summer with immediately post-college. They went their separate ways but didn’t get closure. Disappointingly predictably, after a great dinner P.J. thinks they have another chance, only to have him tell her he’s engaged and was only visiting her to get closure on their relationship and make sure he was ready to settle down with his fiancĂ© for good. My Boys had the perfect opportunity for Sisto’s secret to be something legitimately crazy, and for him to act like a loon and get away with it, and I weep for missed opportunities because Crazy Creepy Sisto is hot. Straight Man Sisto is just puffy and blah.

The B-story involves a still-unemployed Mike begging for a job at Kenny’s sports memorabilia store. Kenny reluctantly agrees but immediately regrets this decision when Mike starts changing things in the store. Mike very excitedly (and cutely) comes up with an idea to start a ticket brokering business out of the store, and he and Kenny finally agree to go in on that business together, 50/50. This storyline isn’t fantastic, but it’s ten times more interesting than P.J.’s endeavors this week and at least offers a few solid laughs.

Overall, this was probably my least favorite episode of both seasons so far. Hopefully Brendan’s exploits next week as the new playboy in town will bring back the funny that was sorely lacking this week.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Big Love Mondays: Season Two, Episode 23, "Take Me As I Am"

After the end of the penultimate episode of Big Love’s second season, “Take Me As I Am,” I thought the episode’s final shots, showing a knot of rattlesnakes lying beneath the covers of a perfectly made bed, was a little over-the-top as a symbol. But as I thought about it more, I realized the snakes are the perfect representation of every part of the Henrickson family’s life. On the surface, everything is pristine and perfect. As long as Bill (Bill Paxton) and his wives keep those smiles on their faces, they’ll get through anything and emerge on the other side the perfect, polygamist family. But that placid surface has been shown to have its wriggling bumps this season, and when you pull back the covers, you find something poisonous and potentially lethal. Some of these snakes are external, the sort that you can avoid, rebuff or wait out (from the threats to the family from Alby Grant (Matt Ross) to the family’s outing at the end of season one). But some of the snakes are internal, not so easily repaired, from Barb’s (Jeanne Tripplehorn) fears about how she’s harmed her family to Margie’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) fears of being marginalized as the third wife (tonight she even implies that she is little more than a baby machine to Barb). The actual, physical snakes are easily dealt with. But the idea that the marriage bed is poisoned, that the very security of your home is threatened, is more deep-rooted and far less easy to shake. In putting the snakes in the bed, Big Love found its own way of aping that famous shot from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet where the camera pans down into the roots of those perfectly manicured lawns to see the writhing, natural pandemonium at suburbia’s heart.
Read the rest here.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Things we like: The VanDerWerff scale

Someone I've never heard of has proposed "The VanDerWerff Scale" to measure television shows based entirely on an offhand comment I made on a blog a week or so ago.

All I can say is, yes. Yes. Name something after me.

David agrees.

To learn more about The VanDerWerff Scale, go here.


"Golden Throat, this is Jazz Square. We may have trouble.": High School Musical 2

When Todd asked me to cover High School Musical 2, I think he was expecting something different than I am about to offer. Something snarky, perhaps. Unfortunately, I cannot offer any snark because I am still in a blissful haze filled with visions of dancing teenagers enthusiastically singing manufactured pop songs. Hi, my name is Carrie, I'm 30 years old and I'm a High School Musical junkie.

The media latched on to the High School Musical phenomenon just as fully and quickly as the tweens (and please, shoot me now for even using that word). Considering the cash cow the franchise has become, it's natural that the media would want to dissect the reasons behind its popularity and the implications this will have for the entertainment landscape. The simple fact is, however, that High School Musical's tremendous success shouldn't be such a surprise. Pre-teens and teens are notoriously fanatical. When I was that age, the phenomenon was New Kids on the Block, the next generation drooled over 'N Sync and Backstreet Boys, and so on for as long as teenage boys have been singing songs written for them by middle aged men. The only difference here is that it started out on television, but even that has a history. Let's face it, High School Musical is sort of a modern day Mickey Mouse Club, albeit one with more self-tanner. (Seriously, why is Zac Efron so tan?)

A little refresher on the first installment for the franchise newbies: hottie basketball star Troy and smarty-pants girlfriend Gabriella met-cute over karaoke and quickly fell in like, but were thwarted by their different social circles who wanted them to associate with their own kind and "stick to the status quo," which quickly tore them apart. Through the magic of teamwork and acceptance of others, they overcame their differences and finally got together for good. And then they had hot monkey sex on stage in the middle of the spring musical while the rest of the cast danced around them. Okay, maybe that last part didn't happen. If this was Tree Hill High School Musical it probably would have, set to some bitchin' Dashboard Confessional tunes.

The second movie picks up a few months later in the last moments before summer vacation, and the kids are itching to get out. Once the bell finally rings, they celebrate their freedom with what else? A song! From the opening notes and dance steps of this number, "What Time Is It," it's clear that director Kenny Ortega and the HSM songwriters aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. They have a formula, it works, and they're sticking to it. As the music ends, the next scenes establish the new challenge our Wildcats face: they are growing up, and with college looming and cars to purchase, they need to make some cash over the summer. Lucky for Troy, delicious villain Sharpay has taken a shine to the idea of them as a couple (although it's clear she is only doing this for status purposes and has no real feelings for him) and talks the manager at the country club her parents own into giving him a summer job so she can successfully steal him from Gabriella. Troy, being the idealized nice guy he is, negotiates jobs at the club for the entire Wildcat crew, including Gabriella.

Once they begin their jobs it's clear Sharpay isn't going to make their summer an easy one, especially after she introduces Troy to her father and he takes a shine to our golden boy as well. Soon, Troy is promoted to golf pro and being courted for a basketball scholarship at the local university and doesn't have time for his friends. Sharpay even manages to trick Troy into singing in the country club talent show with her instead of Gabriella, and once she finds out her brother Ryan (the delightful Lucas Grabeel, also seen on Veronica Mars and Smallville) is helping the employees choreograph their own number for the talent show, lobbies to get the employees excluded so only she and Troy will have the spotlight.

Gabriella, tired of being put in second place by Troy and having her and her friends abused by Sharpay, quits her job at the country club and breaks up with Troy in my favorite song of the movie, "Gotta Go My Own Way." Vanessa Hudgens acting is usually a bit weak (can she please stop laughing already?) but she really shines in this number, and honestly, it's just a great pop song. I begrudgingly admit, I might have cried a little bit (both times I watched) when she stands up for herself and, well, pulls a Kelly Taylor and chooses herself over being mistreated. It's a testament to the sensibility of the HSM series that her reasoning is never jealousy over anything happening between Sharpay and Troy, but hurt for being ignored and outrage on behalf of what her friends are going through. She's too secure to succumb to jealousy. Bravo, Gabriella!

Jilted by Gabriella and on the outs with his buddies, Troy takes stock of who he has become and realizes he's a royal ass and has to make things right. Although Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay) tries her best to steal the show this time around, this movie is Zac Efron's to lose and he puts up a hell of a fight, but manages to stay on top. He famously negotiated for the right to sing his own songs for the sequel (the first were voiced by Drew Seely) and is greatly rewarded for his persistence by a catchy Justin Timberlake-esque number here during his epiphany called "Bet on It." It's easy to see why millions of young girls (and plenty of older women as well) love him after his performance here. My only quibble is the monumentally stupid part of the number when Troy longingly peers into his singing reflection in the pond. Man, that was dumb.

In the end, Troy decides he won't sing in the talent show with Sharpay if his friends can't participate as well, and makes the rounds to apologize to everyone he's wronged like a good hero. He even finally agrees to sing with Sharpay because he promised and he doesn't break his promises. Luckily, his friends have a different plan and rush him off to learn a new song (in like 5 minutes, which, WHATEVER) and tell Sharpay she's not singing with him. When Troy gets on stage and starts singing, he hears Gabriella's voice joining him but can't see her, and positively beams when his friends step aside to reveal her in the back of the crowd. This was excessively cheesy, but so damn cute you can't help but smile. The entire gang performs, a good time is had by all, and all transgressions are forgiven, even Sharpay's. Ah, the power of music.

After their final showpiece, the teens go out to celebrate on the golf course and Troy and Gabriella's long-teased kiss finally happens. It's sweet, and I'm sure 10-year-olds love it, but come on. They're teenagers. We know they've been making out like monkeys on crack every second they're alone since they started dating months ago. Everything fades to black and the whole gang comes together again for a final song which I refuse to acknowledge because Zac Efron is wearing such terrible clothes. In his plaid shirt, denim pedal pushers and slip on canvas sneakers he looks like Mary Anne from Gilligan's Island. Not a macho look for our young heartthrob.

In the end, I think the most appealing things about the High School Musical movies are the very thing that bothers so many people: the absolute purity of the proceedings and idealization of the teenage world. Everyone is a good person deep down inside; people who do bad things realize their mistakes, apologize for them, and change accordingly; parents are supportive and non-intrusive. The reason these ideals work here and don't in other cases (i.e., 7th Heaven) is because nothing is done in a preachy manner, and everyone involved in the endeavor obviously believes in what they are doing and puts a lot of care into making it work. Everything about the production is a little larger than life: the colors are a bit more saturated, the performances are just a touch above realistic, the enthusiasm in the choreography and songs are over the top, but all of these things mix together for a beautiful cocktail of joy that can lift the lowest spirits. I love the realism of the teenage adventures in Freaks & Geeks, and the angst of teen love in Dawson's Creek, but sometimes you just want a little slice of teenage idealism in your life, and High School Musical is the perfect place to get it.

Now, my friends, feel free to incessantly mock me in the comments.